The bail industry and crime victims groups have already launched voter referendum drive against new “risk assessment” system.
Governor Jerry Brown has just signed a sweeping reform bill that makes California the first state in the nation to abolish bail for suspects awaiting trial.
An overhaul of the state’s bail system has been in the works for years, and became an inevitability earlier this year when a California appellate court declared the state’s cash bail system unconstitutional. The new law goes into effect in October 2019.
“Today, California reforms its bail system so that rich and poor alike are treated fairly,” Brown said in a statement, moments after signing the California Money Bail Reform Act.
The governor has waited nearly four decades to revamp the state’s cash bail system. In his 1979 State of the State Address, Brown argued the existing process was biased, favoring the wealthy who can afford to pay for their freedom, and penalizing the poor, who often are forced to remain in custody.
Under the previous bail system, a person could pay a fixed amount of bail money, the amount of which was set by a judge who calculated in factors such as the seriousness of the crime and previous criminal history. After the appropriate bail was paid, the suspect was released from custody awaiting trial. With the new law, judges can make the determination with what the bill refers to as “pretrial assessment services” which will do a “risk assessment.”
These new pretrial assessment services will release people arrested or detained for nonviolent misdemeanors within 12 hours of booking. Felonies will be evaluated by these new guidelines into “low,” “medium” or “high risk” categories.
With some exceptions to be determined locally and sometimes even case by case, “low risk” individuals will be released, “medium risk” individuals could be released depending on the decision of the local assessment agency and “high risk” individuals will remain in custody as determined by a judge. Detained individuals will still have a chance for a hearing to argue for their release.
Interestingly, several organizations including Human Rights Watch, the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, and the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department are opposing the changes.
Human Rights Watch Advocacy Director Jasmine Tyler, an organization which has advocated for years for changes to the bail system, wrote an Aug. 23 letter to Governor Jerry Brown opposing the new law.
“The new SB 10 is simply not bail reform; it replaces one harmful system with another,” Tyler wrote. “In fact, it will make many of the problems we revealed in our report even worse.”
The letter criticizes the way the profile based risk assessments may be developed and challenges the objectivity of the assessors. Tyler says the new law will “massively” increase preventative detention instead of lowering pretrial incarceration rates.
“The bill then sets up a system that allows judges nearly unlimited discretion to order people accused of crimes, but not convicted and presumptively innocent, to be held in jail with no recourse until their case is resolved,” Tyler wrote.
How is it likely to work out? About as well as other laws coming from Sacramento nowadays, if the example of a similar bail system used in Washington D.C. is any guide.
But approximately 11 percent of defendants in Washington, D.C., are rearrested for separate violations before trial. Approximately two percent are rearrested for violent crimes, according to D.C. Department of Corrections data.
Examples of that two percent of cases include a man arrested for shooting someone to death in the summer of 2016 between his arrest for another crime and the subsequent trial. Quincy Green avoided being tracked by a court-ordered monitoring device by having it attached to his prosthetic leg and removing the leg.
The ink on this law had barely dried when the bail industry joined other opposing parties to launch another state referendum campaign.
A coalition of bail industry associations, crime victims groups and other opponents have launched a voter referendum drive in an attempt to block the implementation of the new law. They have roughly three months to collect and submit an estimated 366,000 signatures to qualify the measure.
If they are successful, the law would be put on hold and weighed on the November 2020 ballot.
I would like to remind my fellow Californians that voting in different politicians would be much easier than launching expensive, time-consuming referendums! As it is, there will likely be plenty of propositions on future ballots attempting to undo Brown’s legacy.DONATE
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